Home Arts & Lit Wanted: Modern- Day Dickens

Wanted: Modern- Day Dickens

In an age where politics is rife, Daisy Saunders discusses how it is explored in literature and reflects upon the power of Tolstoy and Dickens, who were not afraid to expose the errors of their societies.

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If there’s one thing that’s on everybody’s mind these days – it’s politics. Who said what, who did what, who trumped who (ha), who’s bad and who’s good. This is a good thing. More people than ever are now beginning to get involved with political affairs, activism and voting and are generally committed to making their communities a better place. With the emergence of series such as ‘House of Cards’, ‘Designated Survivor’ and other popular politically oriented titles, these days it’s hard to escape not having an opinion on world affairs.

January 2018 started off ripe with political drama, with the publication of Michael Wolff’s ‘Fire and Fury: Inside The Trump White House’ hitting the bestseller list. The book was met with immense international media attention, following what Business Insider called, “one of the more explosive anecdotes”; an interview with former white-house adviser Steve Bannon who stated that the 2016 meeting at Trump Tower which involved Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and the Russians was “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.” This brought more call to attention on the various US (admittedly, already highly acknowledged) political scandals and ultimately led individuals around the world to ponder whether their government were as clean-cut and pristine as they originally thought.

these days it’s hard to escape not having an opinion on world affairs

Closer to home, Tim Shipman’s novel ‘All Out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain’s Political Class’ was released in 2016 and described how some of the political leaders of the UK, including Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, George Osborne, Nigel Farage and Dominic Cummings contributed to the birth of ‘Brexit.’ With Goodreads claiming that the work “reads like a thriller,” readers should be left concerned and exhilarated by the exposure Shipman brings to the highly controversial ‘Brexit.’

These are just a few titles that will allow you to delve into modern political literature. Admittedly, I haven’t read many modern political works but I wanted to give brief credit to those who are allowing even the weaker politically minded individual (i.e. myself) a beginner’s approach to understanding some of the key political dilemmas of the 21st century.

Although it’s important to recognise, praise and criticise emerging political works (here’s looking at Carol Ann Duffy’s new poem ‘Politics’), I feel that a certain element of political consciousness has been lost in today’s society. As an English student, this lack of consciousness has become more and more evident, especially when comparing past political works by the likes of Dickens and Tolstoy with the litany of literature produced by today’s modern political press. There’s one important feature that always appears to be forgotten within Literature today…

How does politics affect us?

In a time of rising house prices; the loom of Brexit and consistent NHS and education cuts, why do we still put the focus on those who are deemed to be ‘above us’? Why does our literature explore the tensions of political life that boils within ivory towers (or a White House) when we already have these tensions sitting on our doorstep?

Dickens and Tolstoy…expose errors within their political societies

If there’s one thing that both Dickens and Tolstoy share within their work, it’s this; sentiment. They care for the people. They expose errors within their political societies; they mock the exploitative employers of the workhouses and sympathise with the workers. We read this and understand these works to be elements of the past when really they are the elements of the present and our formidable future.

We forget that British workers work an average of over 469 unpaid hours a year and yet 55.6% of employees still feel unsatisfied with their job (iNews). We forget that the demand for social housing has risen whilst the availability of these homes has dropped by 11% since January 2017. We forget that a possible 870,000 children in the UK go to bed hungry because their family cannot afford to feed them. We forget the outdated legislation been pressed on our housing, businesses, schools, hospitals and so and so forth until we forget what put us in our situation in the first place; the subversion of politics!

If Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol and all my other favourite political novels can teach you anything it’s this; politics is your life. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s distanced beyond the safety of a television or a mobile phone screen.

the best kind of novels are the ones that really make you think; what is truly at your control?

This is perhaps a dark realisation to make within an article about favourite political novels, but the best kind of novels are the ones that really make you think; what is truly at your control? George Orwell did this with his novels ‘1984’ as well as ‘Animal Farm’ and some may argue that even Steinbeck and Fitzgerald implicitly did this with titles such as ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘The Great Gatsby.’

 Although politics may be full of doom and gloom and give you an incessant headache, it’s an important factor that conditions your individual and social development, so soaking up even a little amount of the current affairs mentioned in the news or, through Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry, can actually make you a better human being. Personally, although I’ve enjoyed a variety of political novels, I’m still waiting for the Modern-Day Dickens to emerge and kick some political butt before I make any further commitment.

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